By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — A hotbed of vocations for Missouri? Try the Newman Center at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
“In my four years there,” said Deacon Daniel Gill, who will be ordained to the priesthood of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on May 24, “the Newman Center has produce two priests for St. Louis, one for Jefferson City, one for Springfield-Cape Girardeau, and me. The joke was that they had replaced everybody’s Vocation Office. My personal thought is that it had a lot to do with pastor/chaplain Msgr. (David) Cox. Right time, right place sort of thing, but that’s just a completely biased and unsubstantiated claim.”
What is not completely unsubstantiated was that Msgr. Cox and the Newman Center was there for Deacon Daniel Gill at the moment he needed them the most, on Sept. 25, 2005, a Sunday evening.
“I received a phone call from my father. It was right around 6:40 p.m., just a few minutes after I decided I did not want to go to the 7 p.m. Mass,” Deacon Gill recalled.
“He was calling from the hospital where he had been taken the previous Thursday after collapsing on the golf course,” he said. “He was going in for surgery early Monday morning to have a pacemaker installed.”
Still talking to his father, Deacon Gill changed his mind. He rushed to Mass at the Newman Center, “with one hand on the wheel and the other on the phone.”
Msgr. Cox chose that Mass to preach about letting go, giving God a chance, and listening to what God was saying.
“Two days later, I was in the office of the Newman Center director, Franciscan Sister Renita (Brummer), asking about how to let go, how to recognize God in the world around me,” he said. “She asked me if I would like to attend a luncheon Msgr. Cox organized at the rectory for college students wanting to learn more about the priesthood, and I said yes.”
Thoughts of becoming a priest had begun to enter Deacon Gill’s mind some six months earlier in April, during the intense coverage of the death of St. John Paul II, and the election of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.
“This was a first for me, as it was for so many young people,” he said.
“I enjoyed hearing people talk about how he changed their lives and what his life of immense spiritual devotion meant,” Deacon Gill said.
“Somewhere in the midst of all that coverage came the idea of the priesthood,” he said.
The following fall, Deacon Gill said he not only accepted Sister Renita’s invitation to go to that luncheon, but to every luncheon Msgr. Cox hosted to help students hear their call.
The following January, Msgr. Cox arranged a road trip for Deacon Gill and two other students to a weekend retreat at Conception Seminary College.
“That experience played a huge role in convincing me I could lead a priestly vocation,” he said.
But it still wasn’t enough. He continued to pick the brains of priests he met.
“I never ran into one who did not like what he was doing or regretted his decision to follow God,” Deacon Gill said.
Yet he was torn. His call to priesthood wasn’t as obvious as he hoped. What about his plans to become an engineer?
“I entered college with the intention of studying engineering and working in the industry,” he said. “While all this was going on, my satisfaction with my choice was slowly shrinking. At first, I tried to ignore my discontent, explain it away as a reaction to certain professors.”
He was growing increasingly unhappy with his engineering work, he said.
“I didn’t do a good job of hiding it,” Deacon Gill said. “Soon my mother started asking if the path I was on was where I wanted to be.”
By the end of his sophomore year, he made a decision. He would complete his degree, and then he would apply to the seminary.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” Deacon Gill said.
“Many twists and turns have brought me to this moment. Only now is it so clear that it was all the while guided by providence,” he said.
“When I first started this journey, Sister Renita told me God will not show me my final destination, he’d simply show me the next step. It took me years to realize how true that was,” he said.
With family and friends in Kansas City, Deacon Gill chose to apply for priesthood in the Diocese of Kansas City-Joseph though he is not a native of the diocese.
But he said he could not have been supported any better than by the Serrans, Knights of Columbus and the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and especially by Bishop Robert W. Finn who will ordain him.
“Obviously, I think we have a good bishop or I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that the need for priests is the same everywhere.”